An American in Paris: Organist Rhoda Scott’s Remarkable Jazz Career

Ask Rhoda Scott, and she’ll tell you that her career as an illustrious jazz organist happened by accident. But if you know his story, it’s hard not to spot the hand of fate.

She was born into a family of musicians – her father was a minister of the AME (African Methodist Episcopal) church in New Jersey. Naturally, an organ had to be played for her congregation, and Rhoda was already sitting in that role when she was 10 years old. Her talent was so evident that she was recruited to play in local R&B groups as a teenager and, by the time she was a young adult, was touring the Northeast Corridor with her own trio. Count Basie was so impressed that he booked her at his Harlem club.

/ Image courtesy of the artist


Image courtesy of the artist

Rhoda Scott at the Playbill, Newark, c. 1966

Yet Scott’s soul-jazz fairytale really blossomed in Paris, where she moved on a whim in 1968. It turned out to be the biggest decision of her life: not only did she fall in love, but she also became one of the most beloved people. figures of jazz in his adopted country.

Earlier this month, Scott was awarded a Legion of Honor – France‘s highest honour. And at 84, Scott shows no signs of stopping. “I’m blessed,” she says of her continued success. “I wish I had a secret but the answer is that I am truly blessed.”

The musicians:

Rhoda Scott, organ; Sophie Alour, tenor and soprano saxophone; alto saxophone Geraldine Laurent; Julie Saury, drums.

Define list:

  • Moaning (Bobby Timmons)
  • We Free the Queens (Lisa Cat-Berro)
  • Charlotte’s Waltz (Rhoda Scott)
  • I wish you love (Charles Trenet)
  • I want to move (Sophie Alour)
  • What Did I Say (Ray Charles)
  • Credits:

    Screenwriter and producer: Sarah Geledi; Host: Christian McBride; Concert engineer: Rob Macomber; Producer: Alex Ariff; Episode Mix: Ron Scalzo; Project Manager: Suraya Mohamed; Vice President of Visuals and Strategy at NPR Music: Keith Jenkins; Executive producers: Anya Grundmann and Gabrielle Armand.

    Special thanks to Sébastien Vidal and his team at TSF Jazz in Paris: Jean-Charles Doukhan and Juliette Balland.

    Copyright 2022 WBGO and Jazz at Lincoln Center. For more, visit WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center.

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